Municipalities taste-testing portal

A new model of citzen-based services is the one-stop portal — not just to pay municipal bills and apply for a hunting licence, but also to find a summer camp for the kids and find a decent pair of walking shoes.

In 1999, Industry Canada offered $5 million to Canadian communities that could

aggregate all these services under what it termed a “”Smart Communities vision.”” Twelve cities were selected across the provinces and territories. In British Columbia, a joint project comprising neigbhouring cities Coquitlam and Port Moody is underway and is expected to launch officially in about six weeks.

“”The objective of all of the demonstration sites is to display what the benefits or to show a community what the benefits of information and communications technology are,”” said Jennifer Wilke, change manager for Smart Choices, the organization overseeing the B.C. initiative. “”They are not technology projects per se. . . It’s not the technology itself but what you do with it that’s important.””

The Coquitlam/Port Moody site is called — aptly named, since it combines numerous ingredients from municipal level services to pages provided by local businesses.

“”I might be able to enroll my son in swim lessons through a City of Coquitlam program, buy a business licence in the city of Port Moody . . . or buy something in the community or register for hockey,”” said Wilke. All transactions are tallied on the citysoup portal, and users are presented with one bill to pay.

Citysoup is built with Yahoo! Enterprise Solutions personalization tools, but its mandate is quite different from that well-known portal. “”Unlike a traditional portal where you start from the big, wide world and have to drill down to get to your local content, this shifts that and says, ‘Let’s start local and you can drill out to the outside world,'”” said Wilke.

Smart Choices announced its partnership with Yahoo! in January of this year — as well as partnerships with other key providers Microsoft Canada, Sierra Systems Group and Telus, which is hosting the site from its Calgary data centre.

The work has come a long way in the last seven months, said Coquitlam’s manager of information and communications technology Rick Adams, and is near completion. Most of the technology work is squared away and it’s now down to the crucial details of what citizens want from the site and how they intend to use it.

Coquitlam is re-designing its own city site in the process, since much of that data will be shared with Citysoup. “”We want to make sure that all of our content is up to snuff for aggregating into the portal. We’re . . . transporting it into Microsoft Content Management (Server), which is the tool that we’re all going to be using to aggregate information through Citysoup,”” said Adams.

Information from Coquitlam and Port Moody, as well as pages from private businesses and Douglas College in Vancouver, is being aggregated by a series of steering committees made up of representative members. “”A lot of it is training our users to become more proficient at Web authoring. We set up a workflow process with authors, editors and publishers. As the content is developed, it actually moves through a chain of approval before it ultimately gets published,”” said Adams.

Smart Choices considers the October launch of Citysoup as a beta test, and is actually one of four stages the program will undergo over the next year and a half. In addition to more content and services online, there will be brick and mortar locations opening up in the cities to provide Internet access, as well as education and training services for citizens and businesses.

Adams said he doesn’t believe city Coquitlam city officials will contribute much beyond 100 pages to Citysoup for the time being, but noted that only 60 of Coquitlam’s 600 community organizations are involved so far. In other words, plenty more ingredients may be added to the soup.

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